The Epigenetics of Early Life Adversity: Current Limitations and Possible Solutions

Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2018;157:343-425. doi: 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2018.01.008. Epub 2018 Mar 30.


Adverse experiences during sensitive postnatal developmental periods can disrupt the calibration of fundamental systems and increase the risk of a wide range of adult disease states, including psychiatric illnesses. Accumulating evidence suggests that epigenetic modifications involving DNA methylation, posttranslational histone modifications, and noncoding RNAs may be a key mediating factor in this disruption. Accumulating evidence from both animal models and human studies suggests that early life adversity alters the epigenome at multiple loci across the genome, but that the specific alterations, and the associated transcriptomic and psychiatric outcomes may be dependent on multiple individual factors. Here we will review the current findings on early life adversity associated alterations of the epigenome in animal models and humans, discuss current limitations, and highlight possible solutions and future directions.

Keywords: DNA methylation; developmental environments; early life adversity; epigenetics; histone modification; individual differences; noncoding RNA; psychopathology; resilience; stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*